I have two adult children, both of whom were raised Catholic. They are good, loving and kind yet neither believe in Jesus these days. If I am lucky enough to be admitted to Heaven how could I possibly be joyful in eternal life if my children aren’t there?
— Nancy, from Springfield
... he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)
Nancy, you have asked a hard and painful question. If we, by God’s grace, persevere in his flock to the end and enter the promised eternal reward, what about loved ones who choose the flock of goats, who “did it not to the least of these ... and they will go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25)? What if we, like the prodigal son, turned back to Our Father’s mercy, but know that our elder brother still stands outside (Luke 15)? What about us, in the wedding feast of the Lamb, remembering our friends, relatives, and neighbors who turned down the invitation (Matthew 22)? I use all these images that Jesus gives us because they each offer insight into your question, and the mystery of God’s mercy, and justice, and also the happiness he desires for all in his Heavenly Kingdom.
As regards to the sheep and goats, we notice here that it is upon love that we are judged, and thus, we can hope, as the church teaches (Lumen Gentium, #16) in the salvation of those who do not know the Gospel, and yet sincerely seek God, his grace, and his will by means of their consciences, and acts of true charity. Your children have been baptized, and precisely for that reason, their actions of love remain actions of divine love, and we hope opens their hearts to Christ’s salvific grace in a way we cannot know.
Tying this to the Parable of the Prodigal Son: in Heaven we will see just how far God went — to the cross and beyond — to extend his offer of salvation to every human being, including any unrepentant elder sons. Considering that knowledge, we will also know the fullness of God’s justice, and that, if someone were not there in heaven, it was entirely their free choice to turn the Father’s invitation down.
Lastly, like the guests in the wedding banquet, and like the depiction of the saints from Revelation, there is complete joy in Heaven: no tears, no remaining desires, nothing and no one missing. Somehow, united entirely to God, and because we will be fulfilled entirely by his love (not needing any other communion, though we will obviously be in God’s communion with all the saints and angels. See St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, I-II.4.8), we will not miss anyone who, from our earthly perspective right now, we imagine we would mourn if they were not there.
So, pray without ceasing for your children! If God can move mountains, God can certainly move your children back to the faith.
Father Dominic Rankin is master of ceremonies and priest secretary for Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and has a license in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome.